Posted by Jay Wilkinson

I’m visually wired and right-brained, so when it comes to the five required elements when building websites for nonprofits, design is my favorite to talk about.

We’re talking about the look and feel of a website—a really well designed site will always evoke a certain feeling when you land on it. It won’t necessarily knock you off your feet and make you go, “Wow, that’s beautiful!” But that’s not the goal of good design.

A great design should clearly tell the story of your organization. It’s that simple. If people come to our website and they get what we’re about because we’ve told our story well through the use of images, text and other elements, then we’ve done our job.

Let me give you an example. There is an organization called EDSF, or Electronic Document Scholarship Foundation. By just hearing the name, you might go, “What’s that?” The name doesn’t really tell the story. But their website does. When you get to their homepage, you see pictures of students, three buttons labeled Donate Now, Scholarships and Education, and a headline that reads “Create A Legacy: Establish a Scholarship in your Company’s Name At the School of Your Choice.”

The combination of the images, the site’s navigation buttons and headlines all tell you that this is a nonprofit dedicated to providing scholarships to students. Read a little further, and you find out that they specifically help students studying in the document management and graphic communications industry. Within a matter of seconds, I know what this organization is about simply because they designed their site with a purpose in mind.

One other important aspect of design that I want to mention: Websites for nonprofits should be “accessible” so that every online visitor can interact with our organizations. This involves doing things like writing image tags to actually describe what’s in your photos, so if a sight-impaired visitor browses your website, he’ll know what’s being displayed. Check out this checklist of steps you can take to make sure your website is accessible.

A good test for your nonprofit’s website: Have a friend check it out who’s not familiar with your organization. Does it tell your story? If visitors can’t tell what you’re about when they hit your homepage, then your site’s design may need a little creative help.

For more on these five required elements, check out this in depth video on what goes into the perfect nonprofit website.